Turkish delights

By on January 30, 2010
Straddling two continents and boasting a long and storied history, Turkey seduces visitors with its beguiling mix of beaches, bazaars, and melt-in-your-mouth baklava. This unassuming nation with an uber-friendly population doesn’t factor in to many family travel itineraries, but an adventure in this captivating corner of the world is well worth the effort.Istanbul is the country’s biggest draw, with a classic cityscape of minarets, evidence of its prominent position as a major city of the Muslim world. Expect the former capital to be a beehive of activity this year as Istanbul celebrates its selection as a European City of Culture for 2010. Iconic landmarks like the Blue Mosque and medieval Hagia Sophia dominate the center of the Old Quarter and should factor into any itinerary. Wake up to the ethereal sound of the Muslim call to prayer and start your wanderings in the warren of streets making up this atmospheric area. A few hours in the capital’s Grand Bazaar will soothe any rumblings of retail therapy; you’re sure to find the perfect carpet while kids of all ages will drool over the collection of sweets on offer at the nearby Spice Bazaar. If you’re eager to explore the waterways that shaped so much of Istanbul’s character, take the public ferry on its daily cruise up the Bosphorus Strait and chow down on the freshest fish at Anadolu Kavagi, the last port of call, before challenging your young crusaders to storm the castle above the town.

For an otherworldly adventure, head for the highlands of Central Turkey, where an awe-inspiring collection of “fairy” chimneys blanket the landscape. Formed over several millennia by weathering and erosion, a number of these tuffa-rock structures house ancient churches, cozy hotels, and romantic restaurants. The rest are yours to explore, and it’s easy to head off on a hike through the lunar-like landscape from the region’s gateway villages of Goreme or Uchisar. However, the best way to take in the scene is from the basket of a hot-air balloon high over the earth. Your young adventurers will love the 45-minute sunrise float over the storybook terrain.

If sun and surf beckon, Turkey’s coast has sandy beaches and sparkling seas to rival those of the Western Mediterranean but at a fraction of the price. Shop ‘til you drop in the artsy boutiques of Antalya or enjoy a candlelit dinner al fresco in the cobbled lanes of Kas while the kids play soccer in the main square with locals their own age. For a memorable experience, spend some time aboard a gület (wooden yacht) just offshore – daytime activities include snorkeling, swimming and exploring the islands for Roman-era ruins. At night, huddle up in your sleeping bags under the starry skies. Guaranteed you’ll fall asleep counting the many reasons to linger a little longer in Turkey…

Language: Turkish, though many people affiliated with the tourist industry speak English.
Access: Turkish Airlines offers several flights a week from Tokyo to Istanbul, taking about twelve hours between cities.
Time difference: -8 hours
Currency: the Turkish lira (TYL)
Climate: Varied. Istanbul has a temperate climate while the southern beaches sizzle in the summer months. Inland, the Cappadocia area has cool summers and can see heavy snowfalls in winter months.
Tasty Treats: Baklava is always a family fave but don’t leave Turkey without trying some of the nation’s other sweet selections: Cakey Sekerpare and the coconut pudding dessert of Keskul are worth a taste.

About Mandy Bartok